Just for kicks: Stanford 65, Washington 21

Stanford's total domination of Washington on Saturday is converting more believers across the country. It's still a bit frustrating being force-fed all of the hype about the five teams ranked ahead of us in the BCS standings, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Clemson, but we have no control over anything except our performance on the field each week...

Coach Shaw and his staff have done a tremendous job of making sure the team does not get caught up in such outside distractions. We have plenty of opportunities to move up in the computer rankings with games against USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame in the coming weeks.

In a way, I think the Cardinal relish in taking care of business under the radar. The doubting skeptics who are still holding out don't think Stanford has been tested this year. When we finally play a ranked team in Washington, they say beating the Huskies by 44 must mean that they weren't as good as their ranking indicated. Never mind the fact that Stanford has made a name for itself by making good teams look bad lately. Now that I have provided my fill of general commentary, let's get to what I know and love the most… the special teams!

Kicking

Stanford 7, Washington 0
Extra point: Jordan Williamson gets off to a great start with excellent elevation, right down the middle. Daniel Zychlinski provided an excellent hold and has been doing a great job consistently handling snaps and getting them down in a timely fashion.
Kickoff: Kicking off from the middle of the field, Williamson kicked a nice deep ball into the left corner, three yards deep in the end zone. Washington elected to return the kick and took it back out to the 27. The Huskies managed to open a small hole just before the 20, allowing the returner to squeeze through for an additional 10 yards.

Stanford 10, Washington 0
Field goal: Kicking from towards the left hash, Williamson had excellent height on his 39-yard field goal, making it just right of center. Never a doubt once it left his foot.
Kickoff: Jordan kicked off deep to the left with the Husky returner fielding the kick at the one-yard line. Excellent penetration by the coverage unit forced the returner to run east/west, resulting in a stop at the 20-yard line.

Stanford 17, Washington 7
Extra point: Great snap, great hold, and Williamson drilled the kick right down the middle with great elevation.
Kickoff: Switching up the scheme a little bit, Williamson kicked off deep to the right to the 1-yard line. Once again, great penetration by the coverage unit resulted in limiting the Huskies to a 15-yard return. I'm not sure if I missed something or not, but it appeared as though Jordan Williamson was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct on the play. I read a Stanford blog after the game and apparently they were unable to determine what happened either. Based on past personal experience kicking off at Stanford, I have a pretty good idea of what might have happened.

In 1992, during my sophomore season, I was kicking off against Oregon State up in Corvallis and for some reason a pesky blocker decides to lock onto me and started riding me toward the OSU sideline. I was nowhere near the play and the blocker refused to release his block on me. It's rare to have a blocker immediately come up to a kicker and engage in such an aggressive manner. He proceeded to push me through the Beaver players on the sidelines (he should have been flagged) and after he released the block I shoved him REALLY hard (I should have been flagged). Neither one of us was flagged, but I suspect that Jordan got caught for retaliating in a likely similar situation.

Stanford 24, Washington 14
Extra point: Unfazed by the earlier unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Jordan booted the extra point right down the middle with good elevation.
Kickoff: From the right hash mark, Williamson kicked a nice ball a yard deep into the end zone with the coverage unit doing another good job stopping the returner at the 21-yard line.

Stanford 31, Washington 14
Extra point: After a nice snap and clean hold, Williamson made the extra point just left of center. No technical missteps throughout.
Kickoff: Williamson kicked off from the right hash mark, across the field and into the left corner to the one-yard line. The coverage unit failed to fully converge on the returner at around the 20, allowing the returner to make his way through a hole and out to the 37-yard line.

Stanford 38, Washington 14
Extra point: Good snap, good hold and Williamson slightly over-rotated his hips, pulling the extra point a little further left of center than the previous extra point. No danger of missing, but rather a sign of moderate fatigue. After all, this was his 11th kick of the game and we are still in the first half!
Kickoff: From the right hash mark, Williamson kicked off deep to the right corner, one yard deep into the end zone. The coverage unit didn't quite squeeze down enough as they converged on the ball, and the returner was able to get a few extra yards and squeak out to the 25.

Second-half kickoff:
I'm glad that my observation of "first plays of second halves" generally being poorly executed plays is merely a theory. Maybe Coach Polian read my take on this interesting phenomenon and made it a personal goal of his to emphasize attention to detail. I doubt that is the case, but no matter. Jordan mirrored his last kickoff of the first half (one yard deep and to the right) but the coverage unit, to their credit, did not mirror their previous effort. What a difference squeezing down and converging on the ball makes. All return lanes were closed and Washington was stuffed back at the 16-yard line. We ended the first half on a high note and made a bold statement to start the second half with all-around great play on kickoff coverage.

Stanford 45, Washington 14
Extra point: Williamson pulled the extra point sharply to the left, just inside the upright. This was the third consecutive extra point with the kick progressively pulled more to the left each time. Jordan was not focused on keeping his head down and shoulders square to the uprights through the kick.
Kickoff: Williamson kicked off to the goal line in the right corner with the return team doing a good job of corralling the Husky returner at the 24.

Stanford 48, Washington 14
Field goal: Williamson regained his focus and split the uprights down the middle on a 30-yard field goal from the right hash mark. Jordan has kicked a majority of his field goals from the hash marks this season, which is a good sign that Coach Shaw is not necessarily preoccupied with making sure the football is in the middle of the field on fourth down. [Ed: Hmm, what previous events would inspire Aaron to mention this?] That gives the offense much more latitude to run the best possible play to get a first down in third-down situations.
Kickoff: Perhaps a little tired as this was the ninth kickoff of the game, the coverage unit left a hole open at the 20-yard line, yielding a 33-yard return. Knowing that we are likely to keep putting up a lot of points this season, endurance is going to be the key to preventing big returns later in the game.

Stanford 55, Washington 21
Extra point: Good snap, good hold and Jordan remains on track right down the middle with good elevation.
Kickoff: Williamson hits a nice kickoff to the four-yard line into the left corner but the coverage unit leaves that same hole open at the 20, allowing the returner to take the ball out to the 35-yard line. However, much to the unit's credit, good hustle to the ball resulted in an easy fumble recovery when the ball popped loose from the Washington returner. A poor coverage play was turned around by not quitting and creating a turnover.

Stanford 58, Washington 21
Field goal: Williamson kicks his third field goal of the game by connecting from 32 yards out, right down the middle. Good snap and good hold. I am highly impressed with the snap, hold and kick battery unit we have this season. Consistent, consistent, consistent.
Kickoff: What??? A squib kick to the 31-yard line? No, I don't believe that we were practicing our squib kicks or trying to keep Washington from breaking a big return. Our cover guys were extremely tired by this point in the game. This was their eleventh kick cover of the game and Coach Polian clearly called for the squib to minimize the physicality of the play to prevent any unnecessary injuries with the game well in hand.

Stanford 65, Washington 21
Extra point: The final icing on the cake as Jordan makes his eighth and final extra point right down the middle. And you guessed it, the snap and hold were perfect.
Kickoff: In keeping with the squib strategy, Williamson kicks a low bounding liner down the middle yielding a minimal return. Safe play, good call and no injuries.

Punting

David Green could have almost stayed home for this game as he was only called on once to punt during the entire game. Not having to punt at all during a game is truly a rare occurrence. In 23 games as a starting punter, I only had one game where I didn't have to punt (San Jose State – 1994).

First punt: After receiving a very good snap, Green hit a left directional punt 41 yards. David is very good with his directional punting, as a result of his meticulous technique. However, the Huskies managed to get a 13 yard return out of the punt due to average hangtime. It's really difficult to rate David's performance based on just one punt. We'll have to say that the punt cover unit did not allow a big play.

Final analysis

I am grading out the special teams play this week as an A-. Jordan Williamson was 8-of-8 on extra points, 3-of-3 on field goals and did an excellent job with his directional kickoffs. Green managed 41 yards on his only punt and we didn't give up a big play on the return. The only demerit I would give was for the kickoff coverage. I hate taking a small deduction off for the kickoff coverage unit because there were flashes of brilliance, between stopping Washington inside the 20-yard line twice and recovering a fumble. We need to work harder on converging to the ball carrier as he approaches the 20-yard line. Our inconsistency in doing this resulted in the Huskies having three returns past the 30 (to the 36, 34 and 31). Not including the squib kick returns, Washington averaged 24.8 yards per return…the second straight week we have allowed well over our yearly average. Our team as a whole is improving as we get into tougher competition, so we need to make sure that we start seeing a more consistent coverage effort. We can't give up a big play return against USC!

This is a rare role reversal for Stanford: travelling down to Los Angeles as the clear favorite in a matchup against the Trojans. USC is still on probation, so the chance of knocking off Stanford and spoiling our season has to be their National Championship game. Here's to maintaining an even-keeled approach to paying attention to detail and taking care of business. GO CARDINAL!!!


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